East Texas picking up the pieces after series of storms downs trees, power lines

Smith County still has thousands without power and many more under a boil-water notice.

By Sarah AschJune 6, 2024 11:58 am,

Weeks of storms have strafed Texas with hail, high winds, tornadoes and pop-up hurricane-force gusts, leaving hundreds of thousands of Texans without power and homes and stores ripped apart.

Last month, Houston was littered with glass shards from the windows of skyscrapers, and in the past week, thousands in the Dallas area spent days without power.

As triple-digit temperatures are forecast across large parts of the Lone Star State, many parts of East Texas are continuing to deal with the remnants of recent storm systems.

In Panola, Rusk, Smith and Upshur counties, many have been displaced from their homes as emergency personnel and line workers, some from nearby states flown in to help, have been working around the clock to help pick up the pieces of our stormy spring. In Smith and Cherokee counties, thousands also remain under a boil-water notice.

Smith County Judge Neal Franklin said the area still needs a lot of cleanup but has finally gotten a respite from the worst of the weather.

“Right now, we don’t see any storms in the future. And so I’m happy about that. It’s finally a rest period,” he said. “It’s been two weeks of serious storms, and it just seemed like our alarms were going off in the city, our outdoor warning sirens in the city of Tyler. But then out in the county, just every night we were being hit with high winds and really a scary situation for a lot of citizens.”

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Franklin said most power in Smith County has been restored after being in and out the past few weeks, peaking at 71,000 residents without power; that number is down to about 6,500.

“Our first storm was May 23rd, and it was actually an EF1 tornado. It started in Anderson County, just outside of Smith County, but then came across Lake Palestine and it was downgraded to straight line winds,” he said. “But those winds were 70 mph. They hit southern Smith County – and I actually live in that area, so I was hunkered down in a closet for that storm – and when you came outside, it looked like a battleground. It truly did.”

Franklin said emergency responders estimated that 200 trees were knocked down just in his neighborhood, with several falling on homes. The area is receiving state aid, and the Texas A&M Forest Service has sent saw crews out to handle downed trees.

“Our emergency management department has done a wonderful job,” he said. “The first storm didn’t actually hit much in the city of Tyler; it was mainly out in the county. But this last one was all the way across, and it was 70-mile-per-hour straight winds as well.”

Franklin said with hurricane season officially underway — and predicted to be a very storm-filled summer — this recovery effort has served as a test of the county’s response system.

“Most of the time during hurricane season we end up dealing with sheltering. And so this may be a great trial run for us because we did open a shelter. We have declared disaster. And so we’re doing all those things almost like an exercise, but with real damages,” he said. “In my previous life, I was fire chief for the City of Tyler. And so I was the emergency management coordinator, and I saw what storms did to people.

“When you have a house destroyed – whether it’s a tree falling on it or a fire – the mental and psychological aspect of that is traumatic. And people just, you never feel comfortable again. Anytime a storm happens, it’s always scary. And so I think that’s the part that it’s going to take a while to deal with.”

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